Making it work: Vassar students’ long-distance relationships

Whether it be the awkward hook-up culture or a lack of free time outside of work and classes, finding love on campus seems to be a constant struggle for some students. So, when they finally do stumble upon a good relationship and a situation where they are happy, the idea is to not let it go, even when distance between their college campuses becomes the greatest hurdle for them to overcome.

Long-distance relationships take a variety of shapes and forms, ranging from more temporary circumstances where one or both partners are abroad for the semester to ones that form between students who live at opposite ends of the country but attend the same college. And of course, one cannot forget about those who enter school already in an established, or somewhat established relationship.

For Penny Luksic ‘15 and her boyfriend, the decision to stay together at the start of their collegiate endeavors wasn’t their original intention.

“We were pretty explicit at the beginning of our relationship that we would break up before leaving for college; neither of us wanted to date long distance. However, when summer ended we realized that neither of us were done being together. We simply didn’t think we were finished spending time together and being happy,” she wrote in an emailed statement.

While her boyfriend now attends school in upstate New York, at the time he was located in Southern California, one of the greater issues they had to face.

She continued, “We thought a lot about the fact that this would be a literal trans-continental relationship and the fact that neither of us wanted to be ‘tied’ to someone from home. We contemplated our first semester being something like a break and reevaluating the relationship when we came home in winter, but decided that would have kept us just as emotionally tied to each other. In the end, we realized that we were happy together and weren’t done being happy.”

Others, like David Garfinkel ‘15 and his girlfriend of about a year and a half, tried to take the break-up route, but eventually came to the conclusion that it wasn’t what they wanted.

He ultimately decided that being fully committed to someone he cared about, regardless of a few short hours of distance between Vassar and Yale, was more fulfilling than trying to find something else at Vassar.

Garfinkel said, “I’m not a big fan of the dating scene, and I didn’t really need or have a desire to engage in a string of random hook-ups that are usually void of any emotional connection at all. They have a tendency to end with way too much regret. And while I didn’t really think about whether or not I would regret the decision to enter something that requires as much work as a long-distance relationship at the time, I have no regrets so far.”

While Sam Short ‘16, who has been in his current relationship for around three years, expressed similar sentiments to both Garfinkel and Luksic as for why he didn’t want to end his relationship, he noted that some additional challenges have been added to his a freshman year as a result.

“I basically spend all of the extra money I have on visiting her. Also, it can be difficult scheduling visits around schoolwork and work study. It is nice to have some space now that we are at college, but it would be easier if we were closer,” Short stated, explaining that these visits occur about every two or three weeks and alternates between who visits whom.

When it comes to having her own space, Luksic agrees that though there are times when she misses her significant other, she it enjoys a bit of freedom.

She explained, “My social life is completely separate from my relationship, which allows me to have my own experiences and social relationships at school. It’s extremely important for me to have a life here that is based in my own social needs. I don’t have to think about having couple friends or friends we agree or navigating between groups. It’s very refreshing to feel like I have friends who don’t necessarily have to be friends with my significant other.”

While Short admitted that he feels more comfortable going out when his girlfriend is with him, he still manages to have a social life.

He said, “I still have fun, just in safe ways. I try not to get in situations that could potentially harm our relationship. For example, drinking excessively, going to full-blown parties with lots of people I don’t know and making sure that all other relationships here at Vassar are platonic.”

Of course, the difficulties in maintaining a long-distance relationship, aside from the distance, is making sure to communicate and make time for the other person.

Luksic stated, “If I’m feeling insecure about the relationship for whatever reason, I’m not afraid to say it…If he’s upset with the way something is being worked out, it’s important that he tells me what he needs, because I’m not always thinking of him. We don’t need to always be thinking of each other, but being invested in each other means stepping back from whatever is making the other upset and figuring out how to solve it when it comes up.”

Garfinkel agreed that communication is more than just talking to your partner—it’s about reaching a common understanding.

He said, “Communication needs to happen if you want to stay aware of how each of you feel about the state of your relationship. In order for a long-distance relationship to work, it’s important that both of you are on the same page at all times. If I’m on one page and she’s on another, the foundations will crack. And once that happens both of you need to take a moment to acknowledge what’s wrong and figure out how to fix it.”

Amongst all of these issues that students in long-distance relationships deal with, they also come up against this common idea that, because they are in college, they should be open to meeting new people.

Luksic commented, “There’s a stigma that college is the time for relationship independence for the sake of meeting new people and having experiences that aren’t built to last. I think this is something that has developed from the old-fashioned idea that people had to find spouses in college. Coming to college was never about meeting to people so that I could date them or hook up with them. Coming to college meant meeting new people that expanded my views or became lasting friends. Nothing about being in a relationship has stopped me from that.”

Short’s thoughts on the idea echoed Luksic’s and he explained that if someone commits to a long-distance relationship, they’re usually very serious about the commitment involved in maintaing it.

“If you are with someone who is important to you, and you both are happy in your relationship, and that relationship is quite stable, why would you throw something like that out? Long-term and long-distance relationships in college aren’t for some people, and that’s totally fine; everyone has different emotional needs,” he explained.

Luksic went on to explain that she understands changes in relationships are always a possibility. The important thing for her is that she responds to them and thinks about what they mean for the state of her relationship.

“Of course, if I meet someone that makes me happier than my significant other in that way, then that tells me something about the relationship I’m in now. But I’m genuinely still happy and don’t see any reason to stop being involved in something that makes me happy.” she stated.

Some wonder if putting so much effort into a long-distance relationship leaves high expectations for the future, specifically whether the relationship will last after college.

Short noted that he is much more interested in the present. “I feel like it is good to try and focus on the here and now, and the immediate future. If you look too far into the future or plan too much, you just set yourself up for disappointment or failure.”

Overall, Garfinkel stressed that when it comes to relationships, as long as both parties are getting what they need, it doesn’t matter on the distance between the two. 
He said, “If the other person can make you happy from however many miles away, while still being able to be mentally present where you are, it works.”

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